‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ Review – The Binary of Business / Available On Streaming Rental or Purchase


On the bonnet of a Rolls-Royce sits the Spirit of Ecstasy—the sculpture by Charles Robinson Sykes of a woman diving as if in flight. “Her eyes on the horizon, expecting all the doors to open,” Jeanne (a mesmerising acting debut from French musician Claire Pommet) is told of the figure. In Héléna Klotz’s dexterous and slick Spirit of Ecstasy (La Vénus d’argent), this statue embodies the 24-year-old non-binary protagonist, who is willing to lean into the unexplored and chase success no matter the cost.

With a breakneck pace, Spirit of Ecstasy instantly establishes just how committed Jeanne is to breaking out of their familial conditions and climbing the rungs towards a higher echelon of business and society. We meet the mercurial character as they’re executing a tense robbery: they hop off a motorbike and charge at the front window, smashing the glass of a Parisian tailor to strip a mannequin of its suit. Jeanne slips into the dark grey cloth like it is armour. The fabric broadens Jeanne’s shoulders, gives them a classic masculine silhouette and the confidence to march into the patriarchal world of finance and algorithms. Yet there’s blood seeping through, as they tend to their bloody glass wound and wrap their chest in bandages like a binder.

Jeanne enters the cutthroat world of a stock firm as a quantitative analyst with a penchant for numbers and nerves that cut steel. Here, progress is binary: it’s success or it’s failure. Such a dichotomy also exists in Jeanne’s life between their icy-sharp aura in business that thaws out when they return home and tend to their younger siblings. Providing financial and emotional support for their family, they still endure misogyny creeping into their own four walls; Jeanne lives in a military community with two siblings and a derisive father (Grégoire Colin). The return of an ex, gendarme Augustin (Niels Schneider), further stokes the flames as his presence serves as a reminder of a past sexual encounter.

“Wounded soldiers are slowed down, making them easier to annihilate,” Augustin dares to say at Jeanne’s family dinner table. Such a sentiment seems to have already been internalised by Jeanne, who focuses on computer screens like it is a life-or-death mission. Klotz’s script, penned with Noé Debré and Emily Barnett, plays out quickly, highlighting that intensity which Jeanne exhibits. That zeal is also present in the film’s soundtrack, which melds experimental soundscapes that defy genre placement. Pommet collaborated with composer Ulysse Klotz to create this sonic glimpse into Jeanne’s fluctuating thoughts.

It takes the self-possessed protagonist 30 minutes before we see them smile—and the catalyst is a business proposal. When Jeanne spots an error in a line of code, their omnipresent boss Farès (Sofiane Zermani) takes them under his wing, and they are granted their own desk with six screens, on which numbers fly by like comets. In examining the elite world, Klotz’s film lets us in on the ground and rises through the floors with ramping vigour.

Here, progress is binary: it’s success or it’s failure.

Gender identity is also inspected in Klotz’s character study. Farès launches into a direct conversation about whether homosexuality is genetic or psychological. Jeanne answers that it’s more complicated. They’re composed and know they’re walking a line, but when it comes to work, Jeanne is surefire. “I’m your man,” they state with every ounce of confidence in their body. Androgynous style, boyish cropped haircut, and quick mind, they operate quantitatively in their professional life, so much so that it bleeds into their personal existence. “Is seven masculine or feminine?” Jeanne asks, conveying that their gender is not applicable to one such binary.

How Klotz regards infrastructure is a reflection of how this character sees the world. They exist in a forest of grey where office walls are glass. We’re invited to peer into this landscape with curiosity but the see-through barrier prevents us, and Jeanne, from ever truly breaking through. In this regard, the film doesn’t have a singular focus on gender but intertwines the nuances into an examination of an alluring world that still rejects any shape that doesn’t conform to the patriarchal ideal.

Klotz effortlessly explores identity through the financial world but veers away from any sort of cold, clinical perspective. Though Jeanne is isolated in many of the tight frames, close-ups of their pale skin give Pommet a chance to shine. Her performance, too, is a sort of wrestling. She makes Jeanne a grounded individual but whose unblinking gaze is locked on career progression.

While hunting for a business deal in an art gallery, Jeanne finds themselves observing a contemporary work. The statue resembles a human figure but has no discernible features. Jeanne seems to become that statue when they stalk through a dimly lit hallway to find a client (Anna Mouglalis). They become a dark silhouette that refutes the need to be categorised. Klotz presents such imagery with layered meaning—and that is especially clear in Spirit of Ecstasy’s bookended shots. We meet Jeanne heading towards an attempted robbery on a motorbike, riding through and out of an underground tunnel. This initial shot sees them breach the surface, while the concluding sequence sees Jeanne transitioning into their future by crossing an overhead bridge. Klotz never wastes a moment; with this sophomore feature she establishes herself as a sharp filmmaker whose grounded portrait of a young trapped person escaping their confines is pertinent in its timeliness.

Read our exclusive interview with director Héléna Klotz here.

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